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Creating the American Junkie

Addiction Research in the Classic Era of Narcotic Control

Caroline Jean Acker

Publication Year: 2002

Heroin was only one drug among many that worried Progressive Era anti-vice reformers, but by the mid-twentieth century, heroin addiction came to symbolize irredeemable deviance. Creating the American Junkie examines how psychiatristsand psychologists produced a construction of opiate addicts as deviants with inherently flawed personalities caught in the grip of a dependency from which few would ever escape. Their portrayal of the tough urban addict helped bolster the federal government's policy of drug prohibition and created a social context that made the life of the American heroin addict, or junkie, more, not less, precarious in the wake of Progressive Era reforms. Weaving together the accounts of addicts and researchers, Acker examines how the construction of addiction in the early twentieth century was strongly influenced by the professional concerns of psychiatrists seeking to increase their medical authority; by the disciplinary ambitions of pharmacologists to build a drug development infrastructure; and by the American Medical Association's campaign to reduce prescriptions of opiates and to absolve physicians in private practice from the necessity of treating difficult addicts as patients. In contrast, early sociological studies of heroin addicts formed a basis for criticizing the criminalization of addiction. By 1940, Acker concludes, a particular configuration of ideas about opiate addiction was firmly in place and remained essentially stable until the enormous demographic changes in drug use of the 1960s and 1970s prompted changes in the understanding of addiction—and in public policy.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press


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pp. vii

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pp. 1-12

The American junkie is a product of American history. The heroin addict— typically portrayed in movies, newspapers, and folklore as a heroin-addicted male urban hustler—emerged during a period when the marketing of opiates and the management of urban vice was undergoing profound transformations. These changes created the context for a particular pattern of exposure to now criminalized opiates...

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1 Heroin Addiction and Urban Vice Reform

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pp. 13-42

In 1908, James Martin, then aged 21 and working in a Coney Island music hall, joined a fellow waiter on a double date with two women his coworker had chatted up. Apparently wanting to impress his new friends, James suggested that they go at midnight to an opium den where he had entr

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2 The Opportunistic Approach

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pp. 43-61

New York was the first American city to appoint a vice commission to study the problem of prostitution. Its Committee of Fifteen was established in 1900 and produced its report, The Social Evil, in 1902. Across the United States, social hygienists and social purists publicized what they saw as the evils of prostitution, and they persuaded Congress...

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3 The Technological Fix: The Search for a Nonaddicting Analgesic

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pp. 62-97

As hopes of effective intervention dimmed, addicts became patients that physicians did not want to treat. Physicians had been blamed from within and without the profession for causing alarming levels of iatrogenic addiction; they were exhorted in therapeutics textbooks to avoid creating new addicts by reducing administration of opiates...

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4 Constructing the Addict Career

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pp. 98-124

If the search for a nonaddicting analgesic under the Bureau of Social Hygiene’s sponsorship was moderately successful, its efforts to promote a psychiatric understanding of addiction met with frustration and failure. BSH-sponsored research at the Philadelphia General Hospital was designed as a comprehensive study of the clinical material provided by the hospital’s narcotics wards...

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5 The Junkie as Psychopath

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pp. 125-155

Lawrence Kolb’s formulation of addiction as a problem arising from the defective personality of the addict dominated medical, scientific, and policy thinking about addiction for several decades following the publication of his classic works in 1925. Kolb framed addiction in the terms of the new psychiatry, a reform ideology...

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6 Healing Vision and Bureaucratic Reality

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pp. 156-183

To criminalize opiate addiction with the stroke of a pen was one thing; to process and manage addicts as they were swept up in arrest and moved through the court system and into jail or prison was quite another. Addicted prisoners presented a problem to the law enforcement system at every jurisdictional level...

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7 The Addict in the Social Body

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pp. 184-211

The 1950s marked the apogee of American scientific medicine’s power and the nadir of status for opiate addicts. Physicians had become paradigmatic of the cultural authority of the professions, while, in both professional and popular venues, “drug addict” was shorthand for profound and unreclaimable deviance...

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pp. 212-230

By 1940, all the elements were in place for a configuration of ideas about opiate addiction that remained essentially stable until the enormous demographic changes in drug use that characterized the 1960s. For psychiatrists and pharmacologists, social concerns about opiate addiction in the 1920s and 1930s had created opportunities for disciplinary growth and creation of new knowledge...


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pp. 231-260


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pp. 261-266


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pp. 267-276

E-ISBN-13: 9780801874536
E-ISBN-10: 080187453X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801883835
Print-ISBN-10: 0801883830

Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 2 line drawings
Publication Year: 2002